Reaction to speech shows what we value — and maybe what we should

Harrison Butker, kicker for the Super Bowl LVIII champion Kansas City Chiefs, delivers the May 11, 2024, commencement address at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. (OSV News photo/Todd Nugent, courtesy Benedictine College)

Recently, there was somewhat of an uproar over statements made by NFL kicker Harrison Butker during a commencement speech he made at Benedictine College. The message that sent the media into a frenzy? That young women should not deride the idea of motherhood or wifehood, but rather, be proud of that desire. Other statements the media apparently had difficulty with were comments Butker made regarding Church teaching on contraception, and the calling out of certain bishops and priests over their apparent desire for tolerance over truth.

Interestingly, at just about the same time, Travis Kelce, a player from the same team (Kansas City Chiefs) was invited to Cincinnati University, where he celebrated his diploma on stage by ceremoniously chugging a beer to the applause of the crowd and laudation of the media.

It should come as no surprise what the media celebrates and denigrates these days. What should surprise us is when fellow Catholics laud and denounce the same things.

I agree there are places and times for everything, and a commencement speech might not have been the time for all of Mr. Butker’s treatises. But the vitriol he’s experienced from those who demand tolerance of everyone else is concerning.

In an attempt to understand not just Butker’s words, but his context and inflection, I actually listened to, not just read, the entire speech. Most of the objections to his speech were regarding alleged statements made by Butker “denigrating” the dignity of women by suggesting they “belonged” at home. Those who voiced their dissatisfaction must have missed the five minutes he spent praising his wife as the strongest person in his life; in fact, the “rock” most responsible for strengthening his faith.

I am the only male in my immediate family. I think it’s important to note that my wife is a college graduate, and both our daughters have embarked on their post-secondary education journeys. My wife and I tried to teach our daughters, from a young age, the value of education and independence. Yet, both our daughters have expressed a strong desire to be married and have families. Does that desire make them weak?

The problem we have in our culture today is often related to the way we define concepts. Take the concept of “independence,” for example. To some, independence is a rugged individualism absent any connection or reliance on anyone. To others, independence is the conferring of an education that ultimately gives us more freedom to choose how we want to live that independence connected to others, even relying upon them. My wife and I have always embraced the latter of those two definitions. And hopefully, we’ve taught our daughters to do the same.

“Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments” (Psalm 119:66). Moreover, “whoever loves discipline, loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is foolish” (Proverbs 12:1). Goodness, discipline, and knowledge — those three words are found in the Bible, and in the halls of the school where I teach.

Deep within the Catholic tradition is the search for knowledge. “Fides et Ratio” (faith and reason) is something we talk about much in class. But there’s a reason that “goodness” and “discipline” come before knowledge. When they don’t, knowledge can become a catalyst for self-abatement and hubris. That, at least in part, is the problem about which Mr. Butker spoke. God wants us to use our intelligence to search, to learn, and to strive. But knowledge absent goodness and discipline becomes little more than a secular talisman that can, and in fact historically has, led to the scorn of the beautiful, or even worse.

As Catholic Christians, we are experiencing a deep secularism today. I worry we are so deeply enveloped in it that we’ve lost the sense that our Catholic faith is supposed to be countercultural.

I don’t know why much of the media and culture continues to deride family values and celebrate the profane. Or why those who profess Catholic values side with them. Perhaps there’s a misunderstanding of how we Catholics view knowledge — that we somehow disavow any form of intelligence that asks questions about our journey toward God. Nothing could be further from the truth. As St. John Paul II once so adeptly wrote, “Let science tell us what and how. Let religion tell us Who and why.”

Faith and intelligence are not enemies. Might I also add, neither are degrees and motherhood.

Paul Stuligross is a retired police officer. He currently teaches theology at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Novi.


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